There is a saying in baseball that pitching and defense wins games.
We came into Game 6 knowing we were down two guys – both Marco, our #3 hitter, and Joey, our #12 hitter who’s been a clutch guy in the last two games, are on vacation. We found out just before the game that Aaron, our #6 hitter and one of our solid infielders, was out with a sprained ankle. This meant we were down to 9 guys, and everyone would be playing every inning. This meant we would be playing some guys at positions where they had little experience. Lucas, our middle-inning pitcher, had a sore arm, so we needed Alex and Luke, who had pitched 3 and 2 innings yesterday, to pitch 4 and 3 innings. And to cap it off, the team we were facing, the Roseville Giants, while only 2-2 for the year, had been scoring a lot of runs.
The Giants struck early, getting two runs in the top of the first. We struck back, evening things up at 2-2, and then Alex settled down and started striking guys out. He faced 4 batters in the 2nd, striking out three and keeping the Giants from putting up a run, despite a triple to the fence in center by their #7 hitter. In the 3rd, Alex threw just 9 pitches, getting strikeouts on the first two batters and putting the third batter into an 0-2 hole before getting a soft grounder back to the mound for a quick 1-3 putout. We had gone down quietly in the 2nd, but put 4 runs on the board in the 3rd with the top of our order batting to make it 6-2.
In the 4th, with Alex pitching his 7th inning in two days, we started with an error that put a runner on first. A pair of singles scored two runs, a home run scored two more, and we got a runner at home trying to score for the first out. Alex then struck out two to end the inning. We came to bat with our #9 hitter leading off in the bottom of the 4th, and batted around, scoring 4 runs to make it 10-5.
Luke started the 5th inning, and he came in firing strikes. I told his dad after the game that he must have been jealous of Alex’s 9-pitch inning, because he had one of his own, retiring all 3 batters with strikeouts on just 9 pitches. In the bottom of the 5th, we sent Sean to the plate again, and batted all the way around, scoring 7 runs to end the inning with Sean’s second at-bat, when he reached on an error that scored Elijah for the 7th run.
In the 6th, the Giants tried to come back, and managed to score 5 runs on a series of singles, a couple of defensive misplays and a bomb hit to the fence in left for a two-run homer by their #7 hitter. They held us scoreless in the bottom of the 6th, and came to the plate in the top of the 7th needing 7 runs to tie it up and force us to bat again.
They didn’t get them; Lukas got 3 quick outs from the Giants 9-10-11 hitters and that was game.
Pitching was huge for us in this game, with 14 of our 21 outs coming on strikeouts, and gave up just one walk. In contrast, the Giants managed 8 strikeouts and gave up 6 walks.
We made one error that that put a runner aboard, and a couple that gave them runs. The Giants made 2 errors that put runners aboard.
Pitching and defense may not win games, but it can sure lose one.
Final score: 17-10 Ironpigs.
Season record: 6-0.
My brother Michael died on Sunday. He was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, in June 2010, and while he was briefly “NED” (No Evidence of Disease) in late 2010/early 2011, it never went into remission, despite chemotherapy and surgery to remove the primary tumor. He was my brother and my friend, and I miss him terribly. He did a lot of things in his life – he was an incredibly talented musician, a graphic designer and art director, a teacher, a traveler and an adventurer. He was married twice, and at the end he found true love with Jen, who remained with him through his diagnosis and struggles. She was with him on his last night of consciousness in the ICU, talking all night. He made her laugh that night, as he did so many times. She was the best thing that ever happened to him, and I told him so. He agreed.
I’m keeping up his blog, as I have done for the last couple of months, trying to carry it on in the spirit he intended. He wanted it to serve two purposes. For his friends and family, the blog updates were a way to know what was going on in his journey and to connect with him. Even when he was not able to update it in the hospital, he was reading my posts and the responses. For others who may have the same struggle, he wanted it to provide a sense of what the journey might be like for him. He called it The Unintentional Expert, because he was learning so much about cancer, and chemotherapy, and the systems of his body. In his characteristic way of dealing with hard things with humor, the subtitle is “One man’s attempt to make sense of a senseless thing (Metastatic Urothelial Carcinoma/TCC). With hilarious anecdotes.”
Writing about his passing, and the memorial gathering we have planned, and what he wanted people to do with donations – those things are hard. The hardest, though, was editing the “Who is this guy, anyhow?” section, to add the note that he is gone.
Farewell, my brother. I miss you so much.
Michael’s blog: http://theunintentionalexpert.blogspot.com/
For the second time in as many games, Joey, our #12 hitter, came to bat with the game on the line, and for the second time he delivered a solid hit.
Maplewood is an oddly shaped municipality – I usually describe it as looking like a lemur on a branch with its tail hanging down. Most of Maplewood is NE of St. Paul, just south of 694 and east of 35E, but there is a long strip that extends down past 494. That strip is called the South Leg by the locals, and over the years, has grown from fielding one team to fielding two. We’re one, of course, and this year, the other team is called the Blue Claws. They’re lobsters, apparently. It must be an East Coast team.
The Claws came into the game with a 3-1 record, and they’ve been playing well – the game they lost was one where they had several chances to win it, but couldn’t close the deal. They’re pitching Patrick, who we know well, and catching Jack, another guy we miss. We expected them to play hard, and they did. They were the home team – a bit weird for us, since we were playing at Afton #1, our home field, but it’s their home field as well, so one of us had to be the visitors.
Things started well for us, with two runs scored in the top of the first on a big hit from Aaron, a single that scored both Luke and Anthony. Alex started, and pitched three scoreless innings, facing just 4 batters in the 1st and 2nd and only 3 in the 3rd. He struck out 6, 2 in each inning. We added a run in the top of the 3rd and another in the 4th, and went into the bottom of the 4th with a 4-0 lead.
The Claws came back in the 4th against Lucas, scratching out a run to make it 4-1. Aric, pitching for the Claws in relief of Patrick, settled down after giving up the run in the 4th and put zeros on the board in the 5th and 6th, while the Claws kept scoring – 2 in the 5th to make it 4-3, and 2 more in the 6th to make it 4-5 with them in front.
When we came to bat in the top of the 7th, we were down by a run – the first time all year that we’ve trailed at any point in a game. Craig got on the guys between innings, telling them to get their heads in the game or we were going to lose this one. Patrick came back in to pitch (starters can re-enter the game at pitcher, and a pitcher can pitch at most 4 innings – he’d pitched 3 already).
Elijah hit an easy roller to the pitcher for a 1-3 forceout. 1 out.
Steven hit a double.
Justin walked, with Steven stealing 3rd.
Sean struck out. 2 outs.
Joey came to the plate, our #12 batter, batting in the 11 spot because Marco is out this week. He’d struck out in his two previous at-bats. One of the dads on the Claws side said, with a note of satisfaction in his voice, “Easy out.” I don’t think Joey heard him, but he definitely made him eat those words. He smashed a double into left, scoring two runs. 6-5 Ironpigs.
Luke hit a bomb to left for a home run, scoring Joey in front of him. 8-5 Ironpigs.
Alex walked and stole second.
Lucas hit a double, scoring Alex. 9-5 Ironpigs.
Anthony struck out. 3 outs.
In the bottom of the 7th, leading by 4, Luke cruised through the inning, facing just 4 batters.
Final score: 9-5 Ironpigs.
Season record: 5-0.
This was a close one – if not for Joey coming through in the clutch for the second time in two games, we’d have had our first loss of the season.
Our 4th game of the year was our first home game. We returned to Afton #1, our practice and home field, with a 3-0 record. Thus far, we’ve faced teams made up mostly of younger guys, and haven’t had a serious challenge. An easy schedule early in the year can be a great thing, because it’s kind of like an extended spring training (not that we have spring training, but if we did – you get the point). It can be bad as well; if you get overconfident and don’t take your opponents seriously, you can lose bad when you hit real competition.
Real competition comes in the form of the Maplewood Express. This is my 5th year coaching Alex’s summer teams under head coach Craig Bergstrom. We’ve been building this team for years, and for at least the past four years, we’ve been playing against pretty much the same set of teams, growing over the years as other cities joined the MAA. For the last 3 years, we’ve had this rivalry going with another Maplewood team from the North End. Two years ago, they were the Owlz, last year they were the Muckdogs. This year, they got folded in with another team from the North End, and picked up Nathan, who played with our boys in middle school ball. We faced them in the jamboree and lost, and I have to admit we didn’t mind losing. We were tuning up our new guys; we pitched Lucas B, Elijah and Aaron. Lucas saw limited action for the Mustangs, so we wanted to give him some time. And while we’ve had both Aaron and Elijah as pitchers two years ago, last year they played on different teams, so we wanted to see how they were going to pitch. We also sat three of the Four Horsemen (Alex, Marco, and Luke) for an inning each, as we tried out some of the new guys to see which positions they could play. We weren’t in that game to win, but to learn, and we learned a lot.
At any rate, the Express come to our home park sporting a 4-0 record:
12-2 over the Oakdale Yankees
8-2 over the Little Canada Dodgers
32-2 over the Oakdale Red Sox
14-7 over the Roseville Cubs
They’ve scored 66 runs and allowed 13 coming into this game. They faced one of the other undefeated teams in their last game and emerged victorious. And we’ve played close games against many of these guys in the past; last year we played them in 105-degree weather and won a close game.
Alex and Nathan had a pitcher’s duel for three innings. I should really remember to take pictures of the scorebook so I can reconstruct the games better. The score stood at 2-1 Ironpigs after 4 innings, when we had a delay due to threatening clouds and some distant lightning.
First, lightning is something you don’t want to mess with – we are responsible for the safety of minors, and keeping them out near metal in a lightning storm is dumb. As a result, umpires are empowered to call off games if lightning is seen in the area.
Second, The deal with MAA rules is that a game is considered complete after 5 innings, or 4-1/2 if the home team is leading. We were leading, but only had 4 innings in the book, so if the game was called, it would be no game and we’d have to reschedule. That would kind of suck – as much as we like playing these guys, dangit, we have a lead right now. The coaches conferred and decided we wanted to keep playing, so we appealed to the umpires and they decided to let us play. Game on!
(The storm was downwind of us, and while we got a little rain, it turned into a sunshower and we had a beautiful double rainbow by the end of the game.)
So, the game. We had a scoreless 5th, and held the Express scoreless in the top of the 6th. In the bottom of the 6th, we piled on two more runs, thanks to:
– A single by Joey, our #11 hitter
– A walk to Luke P, our leadoff batter
– A ringing double by Alex that scored Joey and sent Luke to 3rd
– A strikeout by Marco
– A strikeout by Lucas, which prompted an interesting play
After striking out Lucas for the second out, the Express began walking off the field, thinking they had three outs. Their pitcher flipped the ball back to the mound, as is the standard practice. Their coaches began yelling at their team to get back onto the field, and Craig yelled at Luke and Alex to run. The deal is that the ball is live unless the umpire calls time – and nobody had asked for time, so the ball rolling gently towards the mound, with nobody within 15 feet of it, was a live ball and the runners could advance. Luke scored to make it 4-1, the Express got back on the field and got the final out of the inning by striking out Sam (after hitting Anthony with a pitch).
We went to the top of the 7th needing to hold the Express to two or fewer runs to win. Marco gave up a walk, but we got a great catch on a fly ball to right by Steven, along with two strikeouts by Marco, to close it out with only one run scoring and another at 3rd base.
– Another great catch by Luke P at shortstop, backing up Alex at 3rd who had lost a popup in the sun
– Joey’s lead-off hit in the 7th to put the decisive run on base
– Alex’s double that scored the game-winning RBI (and is GWRBI a stat we should bring back?)
Final score: Ironpigs 4, Express 2
Season record: 4-0
Speaking of runs allowed/scored, the Express are at 68/17 after the game – they went from about 5:1 to 4:1. We entered the game at 51/4 (12:1) and are at 55/6 (9:1). If you’re into Pythagorean won/lost prediction, we should be really good. :)
This should have been Game 4, but we postponed our 5/31 game against the Roseville Orioles because it was the same night as the 7th grade band concert. Since 3 of our guys are in band, and the concert is part of the grade, Craig contacted the other coach and got the game rescheduled for later this month.
So, Game 3 finds us facing the Roseville Tigers at Langton Lake Park. This is a new field for us this year, and it’s the furthest drive we’ve had yet. It’s north of the Roseville fields we played last year by a couple of miles. It’s about a mile north of Roseville, in fact. Nice field, if a bit dusty, and it does have a mound, which made our pitchers happy. The mound was an artificial one, which was weird, but a mound is a mound.
The Tigers are another young team – from the looks of them, more 6th than 7th graders, and from talking to the coaches between innings, a couple of guys who had not played baseball much. They apparently have just two guys with prior experience pitching, and that showed. As the visitors, we batted first, and sent 9 guys to the plate, scoring 5 runs in the top of the first. We ran the bases a lot, which had the usual effect of getting the pitcher off-balance and thinking about baserunners instead of the batter, so he was walking a lot of guys.
In the bottom of the first, we sent Alex to the mound. The artificial mound was a bit odd for him at first, and he walked the first batter, who came around and scored as Alex got the next three batters. We put up another couple of runs in the 2nd and 3rd, with Alex retiring the side each time, due in part to some excellent fielding, including a great catch of a fly in left field by Justin. The Tigers were initially relieved to see a different pitcher take the mound for the 4th inning, but that feeling lasted about three pitches, as Luke P set down the first batter he faced on three strikes. He did give up a home run in the 5th on a ball hit over Joey’s head in right, but that was the last run the Tigers scored.
Marco finished the game for us, pitching with great control.
Highlight plays of the game:
– A stellar diving stop of a liner by Luke P at shortstop
– Justin’s catch in left
– A well-executed rundown by the Tigers that got Elijah trying to steal home on a passed ball (their coach swore they had never practiced the rundown, but they did a bang-up job of it)
– Marco’s bomb to deep center for a no-doubt home run
– Another well-hit ball by Anthony
Our pitchers had great control; of the 21 outs we got, 15 were strikeouts.
Final score: Ironpigs 15, Tigers 2.
Season record: 3-0
My daughter Nell is a geek. This makes me happy. She’s also smarter than I am, which I find both awesome and frightening.
Tonight, since I got her new computer set up over the weekend, she asks if we can play Diablo 3 together. I say yes, “if Blizzard has fixed their logon issues.”
“Of course they have logon issues,” snorts Nell, age 12. “They were down for maintenance for 8 hours! And all the nerds in the world sat there with nothing better to do than refresh the logon screen for 8 hours.”
She is, of course, correct, if a bit judgmental. Blizzard has clearly underestimated the effect of pent-up demand on their login infrastructure, and it’s failing under the load of several million people trying to re-establish sessions.
I nod, agreeing with her, and then head to my computer.
Where I sit down and begin re-trying to log in to Diablo 3 several times, until I catch myself and realize that I am all the nerds in the world.
That the Knights are an Oakdale team is kind of odd, because Oakdale teams are usually major league teams – the other Oakdale teams in our league this year are the Cardinals, Twins, Red Sox and Yankees – and the Knights have been one of the Maplewood teams for as long as I have been coaching.
Most of our guys know one of the guys on the Knights, Ben. He pitched tonight, despite having forgotten his baseball gear in his locker at school. He wore his football jersey, which was the right shade of green, and had an extra pair of baseball pants, but didn’t have tall socks, cleats or a glove. Since he’s a lefty, he needs a right-handed glove, and we had no lefties at all on our team who could loan him a glove. He made do with a left-handed glove worn on his right hand, which he called his “lobster claw”.
The Knights are another team that’s mostly 6th-graders, like us last year. Like game 1, the guys came out swinging and scored a bunch of runs in the first inning. We sent 8 guys to the plate and scored 5 runs, then Lucas pitched a perfect inning to bring us back to the plate. Ben made quick work of our 9-10-11 hitters, and Lucas took the mound to record another perfect inning. We scored 6 more runs in the third inning, including a home run by Alex, and Lucas again didn’t allow a baserunner in the bottom of the inning.
In the 4th, we scored another 5 runs, including a monster home run to straightaway center by Anthony. Elijah came on in relief and walked the first batter he faced, but then we got a double play on a grounder to Alex playing second (tagged the runner and threw to Lucas at first for the second out), and Elijah struck out the next batter to end the inning.
We scored 3 more in the top of the 5th, including Alex’s second home run of the game. In the bottom of the inning, Elijah gave up a hit to Ben, who made it as far as 3rd base before the umpire called the game because of lighting.
Final score: Ironpigs 19, Knights 0
Season record: 2-0
For our first game of the season, we faced the Cardinals. We’ve seen some of these guys before – one of the players, Jake, was on our team a couple of years ago – but there were plenty of new faces. The Cardinals have a lot of 6th-graders, like we did last year, and as we saw last year, there’s a bit difference between 11-12 year old boys and 12-13 year old boys. I think our players averaged about 4 inches taller than the Cardinals.
We scored 7 runs in the top of the first inning and hit the 7-run limit, ending the inning with no outs. Every batter we sent to the plate got a hit or a walk, and once our guys got on base, they ran with abandon, since the A league fields feel tiny to them after playing middle school ball on regulation-size fields. The basepaths that Alex, Lucas, Luke, Marco, Anthony, Sam and Steven were playing on were 90 feet, and the A league is played with 75-foot basepaths.
As we were coming off the field, I heard the Cardinals coach trying to rally his guys, who were a little shell-shocked by the top of the inning, to “get the bats going.” Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they needed to do that against Alex. He proceeded to get three quick outs, two with strikeouts, and we scored 5 more runs in the top of the 2nd. Alex made short work of the Cardinals in the bottom of the 2nd, giving up a walk but getting two strikeouts and a nice fielding play by Steven on a soft liner to right.
We scored another 4 runs in the 3rd to make it 16-0, and then we really put the brakes on base-stealing. The Cardinals managed to shut down our bats so we didn’t score another run, but we didn’t need to. Marco and Luke finished the game, giving up a run each.
Final score: Ironpigs 16, Cardinals 2
Season record: 1-0
So last year was Alex’s first in the A League of MAA summer baseball (www.maplewoodbaseball.org), since he was in 6th grade. Last year, pretty much our whole team was 6th-graders – we had two guys in 7th grade, if I recall correctly. This year, the core of our team – once again the Maplewood Ironpigs – is in 7th grade, and spent the spring playing baseball together for Maplewood Middle School as the Mustangs.
That showed up in the pre-season jamboree. We played two games, each a one-hour exhibition. We won the first game 5-4 and lost the second by a lot, but we were playing our new guys to see where they would fit, so we weren’t really playing to win – we didn’t start Alex, and we had this year’s 6th-graders in the field pretty much every inning.
Our team looks really strong. I don’t know what the competition is going to be like, but I’m confident. We have great pitching, 3 excellent catchers, and excellent infield defense. We have a couple of younger guys who are still learning, but that’s part of the fun.
One of the things that happened to us last year was that we first got a taste of the amount of base-stealing in the A league in our first game, since the jamboree was rained out. I didn’t want that to happen to the young team we faced in the first game of this year’s jamboree, so I had the guys running, which rattled the pitcher, just as it did to our pitchers last year.
Better to happen in the jamboree than in a game that counts, say I. Welcome to the A league. It’s fun here.
Not a fun subject. Sorry. Also likely to ramble. If you were expecting funny, skip this one.
My brother has cancer, which sucks enormously. Dealing with this is hard – on me, on him, on our mom, on my wife and my kids… basically, dealing with death is something humans suck at.
My friend Laurie lost her mom three years ago. She was hit by a distracted driver. I think about that every time I get into the car, and I promise myself I will keep my attention on the road. That won’t bring Laurie’s mom back, of course, but it’s a little thing I can do to remember her and to try to make her death matter.
I don’t know how I can do that for my brother. I don’t know what I can do to try to deal with this.
In a way, I’m lucky – Laurie didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to her mom. We’re all in this world for a limited time, and very few of us get to see our deaths coming. That doesn’t make it any easier. I don’t feel lucky. I just feel sad, and cheated of what I was going to get, and fearful of what a world without my brother will be like.
He’s smart, and he’s funny, and he’s talented, and I love him very much. He’s got the most wicked sense of humor, and he’s an incredibly talented musician, and the world will be so much smaller without him in it.
I talked to my minister today – Victoria Safford at White Bear UU. She’s an incredible speaker, and a really genuinely empathetic person, and it was really good to get a chance to talk to someone that I wasn’t trying to take care of. It’s odd at this stage in my life that I have a minister, and that I have a church. I hadn’t expected to have those things, or to need them, but I am very glad that I have them in my life. Victoria suggested that I take some time every day to get in touch with my grief, because it will be with me forever. I’m going to have to learn to live with it. And to live without my brother.
I don’t know how long we have left. I hope it’s a long while. I fear it’s not. I try not to show that fear, because I want my brother to to keep his spirits up, and to enjoy the time he has. I try not to let my grief overwhelm me, because then I’m no good to anyone. So I stay busy – which is not to say productive, because when you’re trying to avoid something, you do whatever is in front of you, because thinking about what to do can lead to thinking about the exact things you’re trying to avoid thinking about. Sigh.
I love you, Mike. Stick around a while, okay? I’m not done with you yet. There’s nobody else that really gets my jokes.